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Races Recipes Running

Choose Your Battles

I tend to have a pretty low bar when signing up for road races. Sure, I’ll consider the crucial things, like whether I can actually run that distance or if I’m physically out of town. But mostly I’ll register for anything that crosses my path, especially if 1. The swag is good (see this weekend’s upcoming 5K) or 2. My running coach demands it.

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A little more petting, a little less stretching, please.

So when I first learned about the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck that took place this past Sunday, the only race research I did was checking my calendar. Even though I wasn’t in half marathon shape when I signed up in May, I figured I could get there by October, so I filled in my info, forked over $75 and started the slow but rewarding process of remembering how to run. I trained all summer, then made my way upstate this weekend for what I assumed would be a walk in the park, considering I’d successfully run 12 half marathons before.

Turns out, I should have done a little more research.

Although this race was ultimately a success for me — I didn’t turn back at mile 3 in tears like I was very, very tempted to do — Sunday’s event was really tough, and it’s mostly my own fault: I didn’t pick the right half marathon for me. Choosing a race simply based on whether it’s close by and the calendar’s free neglects all the other important factors that can help you decide if a specific event is right — or wrong — for your individual needs.

Here are some race factors I wish I’d considered before picking the Fall Foliage Half as my flagship fall race:

  • Start Time. Nearly every race I’ve ever done (save for some NYC marathon waves because 50,000 is a lot of people) starts at the normal hour of 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or mayyybe 9 a.m. That timing works for me because it’s the same time I do my own training runs, meaning I’ve already figured out what to eat, what to drink and how many port-a-pot trips I need to start the race feeling my very best. I hadn’t realized it when I signed up, but Sunday’s race began at 10 a.m. to allow time for NYC or Albany runners to get into town. While some runners might have appreciated sleeping in, the late start time threw me way off. I didn’t know whether to drink coffee or eat a full meal, or whether my Saturday carbs were still enough to power me through. Even worse: finishing a half marathon under the powerful noon sun is not fun.
  • Course elevation. A race along the Hudson River certainly sounds flat, but my god, this half was anything but. The rolling hills of the first few miles I could manage, but the mountainous out-and-back into a ravine was positively soul crushing, and had I known it would be so hilly, I might have passed on this particular event. I spend a decent amount of time running the Queensboro Bridge, so I thought I was hill-primed, but I was wrong and Sunday’s road did NOT rise up to meet me like all those Irish blessings promised.
  • Spectator Density. I pretend I run races for the BLTs I get to eat afterwards, but it’s really waving at strangers and high-fiving little kids that powers me through. The 2015 NYC marathon left me clutching my side in tears on the race course, but believe you me I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd. I know this about myself — I like races where people come out to watch — so signing up for a small race in a small town probably wasn’t the right move for me. Fortunately, my family knows me well and they were camped out at mile 2.5 with blasting music and a “You Run Better Than the Government” billboard. Flying past then was rejuvenating, but it made for a very lonely rest of the course.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad race — the foliage was lovely, the fellow runners were nice, the course wasn’t packed and the BLT was delicious at the end — and I managed to eke out another sub-two hour time despite some tough middle miles there. But I still struggled Sunday, and let that be a reminder to all of us: when it comes to choosing races, you do you.

Me?
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Food Recipes

The Incredible, Edible Egg Substitute

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the older I get, the more affinity I find with Disney villains.

  • Like Scar, I have less patience for idiots.
  • Like Shan-Yu, I’ve conquered Mongolia.
  • Like Cruella, I like to be covered in dog fur.

But the bad guy whose characteristics I’ve most embodied isn’t Hook (though I also hate ticking clocks) or the Queen of Hearts (though I’m also bad at croquet) or Snow White’s evil stepmom (though I also choose my apples carefully.) The villain I most resemble these days is none other than provincial French playboy Gaston.

Why, you ask? Because I. Eat. So. Many. Eggs. (Don’t worry, I skipped the rampant misogyny part.)

If you haven’t watched Beauty and the Beast recently (cough cough fool), I’ll remind you that a line in Gaston’s big showstopper goes a little something like this:

“When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs

Ev’ry morning to help me get large.

And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs

So I’m roughly the size of a barge!”

Gaston’s 60 eggs a day IS a bit excessive, but I’m definitely eating more than that each month. While in childhood my egg consumption peaked around Easter time and Sunday morning breakfasts, my adult self has found eggs aren’t just for special occasions. At about 70 calories apiece, they’re packed with six grams of protein plus iron and nutrients, so if you don’t have cholesterol problems or follow a vegan lifestyle, they’re a great, inexpensive way to fuel up.

I eat eggs all sorts of ways — quiches, breakfast burritos, over grain bowls, mixed into cookie dough — but most of my eggs are made into veggie frittatas. No normal person has time to fry up an omelet before work, but you can cook a 10-egg frittata on Sunday night, cut it into five pieces, and heat it up at work for an easy, protein-packed breakfast on the go.

That’s what I’ve been doing every single Sunday since I finished Whole 30 more than a year ago, and it’s helped me avoid the sugar-laden cereal wall at work and start my days on a positive note. So imagine my horror when I opened the fridge last past Sunday to find the egg drawer bare.

I debated a grocery run, but with no cash in my wallet and a lonely bernese begging me to stay home, I decided to forgo my normal Sunday routine and search for something else protein-packed for my weekday breakfasts instead. I dug through my fridge drawers looking for chicken sausage or smoked salmon or anything remotely resembling an egg, but the only protein source I found was a block of extra-firm tofu.

Challenge accepted.

Although the tofu didn’t do much for Lucille, some quick googling revealed vegans have been making breakfast dishes with soybean curd for decades. Like eggs, tofu is high in protein and low in calories, making it a good base for my emergency mock frittata.

After draining it (note: something it took me years to understand was critical to proper tofu preparation), I added some soy sauce and cornstarch and spread it into a cast iron pan already full of caramelized onions, sautéed peppers and — fine — several tablespoons of bacon grease. (Hey, I said it was vegan inspired, not vegan.) Then I moved it to the oven to finish, like I would a traditional frittata.

Voila.

It may not look like much — tofu frittatas don’t look very yellow unless you add turmeric — but it tasted delicious. Sure, that was probably mostly due to the bacon grease and roasted peppers, but I’ll take whatever wins I can get.

Have you ever worked tofu into your diet in surprising ways?

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Food Recipes

Carrots: Part II

No to toot my own horn, but I feel I’ve written a handful of moving and memorable blog posts these past five years. There was the August 2013 entry about embracing change. The October 2016 one on street harassment. The inaugural post in January 2012 that started it all.

But for all the thousands of words about hope and persistence and determination I’ve written on these pages, the blog post I get the most comments about — hands down — is this one on how to use up a surplus of carrots. #deepstuff

Don’t believe me? My 90-year-old grandmother (now hours from 91!) emailed the evening I published to propose a carrot, walnut and raisin slaw. I also got a blog comment praising juicing and another suggesting carrots may help regulate excess estrogen. The post even made its way into a me-themed Cards Against Humanity (er, “Hum-Anne-ity”) deck, designed by my thoughtful sister for my bachelorette party last November.

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(My maid of honor beats your maid of honor.)

I thought I’d said everything I had to say about orange roots in that original 2016 post. But just this week, I tried preparing carrots in a whole new way. I thought about keeping the news to myself, but who am I to deny the people what they want? So here’s another carrot recipe blog post, brought to you by everyone’s favorite vegetable.

This week, I made carrot pasta sauce. And DAMN it was delicious.

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And you know something so colorful has to be good for you.

I got the idea from my aunt on a recent 20-hour stopover in Rhode Island. She’s been making a tomato-free sauce this summer from a night-shade-free cookbook, and it sounded like a perfect way to use up the hundreds of thousands of pounds of CSA carrots (perhaps an exaggeration but I can’t be sure) sitting at the bottom of my fridge.

I didn’t follow a recipe, but I know enough about flavor combinations to build something delightful. First I sautéed onions in olive oil til translucent. Then I added several cups of coin-sized carrot slices. When the carrots started to soften, I threw in copious garlic, an ice-cube or two of frozen chicken broth, stems from a wilting parsley bunch, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. I deglazed with rosé — because, you know, summer — and let everything cook through. I then moved the pot contents to a blender, added some starchy pasta water to thin it out, and blended until it was sauce consistency.

And then I tossed it with buckwheat noodles, roasted up some Italian sausage and fennel, and called it lunch. And, my god, it tasted so good. Who knew carrots were living a double life as secret pasta topping?

Kind of like Keira’s secret life as a personal-masseuse tester. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it.

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“A little to the left, please.”

How are you using carrots these days? To store your fine jewelry, perhaps?

Categories
Food Recipes

Spicing It Up

They say variety is the spice of life, but I think it’s really garlic salt. Or basil. Or za’atar. Or any number of other dried herbs and seasonings currently crowding out my kitchen cupboards.

Spices are crucially important, and not just because the search for them inspired Columbus to sail westward some 500 years ago, reshaping the future of the Americas forever. They also taste really, really good.

From cumin and dillweed to paprika and cloves, spices have the potential to transform an otherwise unmemorable dish into something you’ll make time and time (thyme and thyme?) again. Heck, there’s a reason Simon and Garfunkel harmonized about parsley and sage instead of bland, boiled chicken breast.

I’m a true spice believer, but it hasn’t always been that way. Much like every other former-22-year-old I know, I moved to New York City nine (nine!) years ago with little more than a suitcase, a laptop and a plastic bin of sad kitchen supplies salvaged from my senior year apartment. I had a wooden spoon, a plastic cereal bowl, salt shakers and some dried onion powder. I did a lot of embarrassing things my first year in Manhattan, but I’d say my “cooking” took the cake.

Also this hat. Hello, 2009!

But as I grew more interested in healthy eating, I started to expand my spice rotation. As I cooked more recipes, I learned that the secret to tasty meals wasn’t necessarily more oil or salt or sugar or bacon (though, let’s be honest, those things often help), but a better use of seasonings. I started with accessible things, like pumpkin pie spice for my oatmeal, but quickly expanded as my palate broadened, adding first rosemary and bay leaves, and then more complex flavors like garam masala and Thai red curry paste to the mix.

I now have more than 50 spice jars at home (mostly made by McCormick, because you can’t take the Baltimore out of the girl), plus hot sauce and a tub of Indian Achaar pickles on my desk at work. And my food is more delicious than ever before. With just a little creative seasoning, I can transform three pounds of veggies into a ratatouille I’ll want to eat all week long or a raw chicken into a garlicky-roasted masterpiece.

And that’s key to healthy eating: actually wanting to consume the nutritious lunch you packed for work instead of leaving it to wilt in the staff fridge and hitting up the sandwich cart downstairs. Cooking for yourself lets you better control your portions, manage what’s going into your body and ultimately saves you money. No wonder the three wise men carried frankincense and myrrh. They knew spices = the original health food.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to start a little experiment: growing my own indoor herb garden. Dried spices have a lot of benefits, namely storability and shelf life, but there’s something extra wonderful about snipping a sprig of parsley in real time to pump up the flavors. There’s also something soul-nourishing about cultivating new life at a time when so much in the world just feels hopeless and dark and sad.

But whhhhhy is my bowl empty?!

So I ordered a little garden planter on Amazon, bought some potting soil, and stopped by the farmers’ market to pick my plants. I went with parsley, basil and sage, three staples in my everyday cooking. I would have bought oregano, since 1. It’s so flavorful fresh and 2. It’s hilarious to hear a Brit say it, but the farmer only had it in big pots that wouldn’t fit into my diminutive blue-toned planter.

And look at them! They’re so darn cute!

Who knows if they’ll grow — there isn’t much room for roots to expand and lord knows whether the sun’s right — but I’m looking forward to trying. Even if I only get one batch of pesto out of them, my babies seedlings have already done much to lift my spirits.

Or maybe it was the dog hugs.

 

Who wouldn’t love this chihuahua-toy-poodle mix? 

 

What flavors spice up your cooking? And what the heck is marjoram? Still haven’t figured that one out. 

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Races Recipes

Guest Post: Felix, I’m Telling You, I See the Irony

Note from the real RiledUpRunner:

Below is a guest blog post from a family friend Vaughan, who has forgotten more marathons than I’ll ever run and who writes the best race recaps this runner has ever read. Vaughan came and cheered me on at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2014, but he’s actually been my cheerleader for 31 years, as evidenced by the following photo. 

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Cool hipster glasses, bro.

I hope you like reading about his recent marathon success as much as I did. Enjoy!


“Hyphenated.  Non-hyphenated.  There’s irony for you.” -Anonymous.

There’s irony as well in an over-60, injury-prone, junk-food fixated runner (who not six months ago ran a marathon in Anchorage without a watch because he’d left his Garmin behind at his step-children’s house) presuming to give tips on injury prevention, diet and logistics to what I imagine is an overwhelmingly young, healthy, food-conscious and cognitively focused readership.

That said, a grateful shout-out to RiledUpRunner for having entrusted her blog to my tender care during a portion of her South Seas honeymoon sojourn. I’ll make sure it behaves, takes its vitamins, keeps its room clean, etc. And while I won’t pretend to be as up-to-speed as Anne on the proper nutritional do’s and don’ts of running, let me insert my two cents’ worth (and give you a ha’penny change): Try to avoid the foods shown here, because what’s known as the “dense nutrition” factor is a little suspect:

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I borrowed these props from a friend. No kidding, really. (Wow, never thought living in a post-truth world would be this easy!)

I want to tell you the story of my most recent marathon, the San Antonio Rock’n’Roll on Dec. 4, but to do so, I first need to explain to you a science program I watched on C-Span the day before the race, something with Neil deGrasse Tyson and a panel discussing black holes. (Stick with me: this relates to the race.) One of his guests used the image of a spacecraft orbiting near the event horizon and then getting pulled in while trying to send out a final message: “Things are nnnnnnnnnnnn………..” It represents an attempt to broadcast a final message that things are not going at all well, but the transmission is caught in the gravitational pull and essentially frozen in time. That’s how I describe my lucky thirteenth marathon – one long keening vibrating anguished wail trying, through the boundless Einsteinian loop of space-time, to make it out of my throat and past the gate of my clenched teeth.

Fortunately for you and me both, the strictures of editorial space-time mean you’ll get the highly abbreviated version of my race recap.

After having wrapped up my first injury-free training cycle in three years, with a strong long run just prior to taper, I figured I’d have no natural enemies this time unless the weather decided to act up. I hate it when I’m right. It was a cold, wet, altogether grim weekend, but by early Sunday morning the rain had stopped. That reprieve lasted until just a few minutes before the starting gun, when the sprinkle started up again. I had my watch this time, but I thought it the better part of valor to attach myself to the 4:00 pace group and trust someone else’s skills on that score. The 4:00 pacer being a no-show, Plan B was to run with one of my class buddies there in Corral 5 for as long as I could keep up with him. About half a mile out, someone came up to us and asked if we knew how long it had been since the starting gun – he turned out to be the 4:00 pacer — and then, as if on cue, came the deluge.

It lasted close to two hours – the cold rain, that is; the flooded streets and the run/wade biathlon lasted the entire race. At Mile 18, I dropped out of the pace group and went into a 10-minute-pace survival mode, which soon degraded further into a run/walk. By Mile 25, I was really, seriously wishing that Phidippides had just e-mailed that damn battle report to the Athenian council and had done with it.

Then, up ahead, I saw my class trainer, Coach Tina, waving and calling out to me. (It turns out she had just run a 1:51 half, through the worst of that soggy muck, and had stuck around to help pull in her lost lambs who were doing the full.) She ran with me the last segment, talking about heart and not giving up and stuff. About a couple of hundred yards out she said, “There’s the chute – this is as far as I can go. You can DO IT!!” And then Coach T – who weighed maybe a hundred pounds after absorbing all that rain – put her left hand on my back and the next thing I remember was a Saturn V thruster shoving me toward, into and past the finish line. Gravity? We don’t need no stinking gravity!

The moral of the story, nieces and nephews, is two-fold. First, infinity has an end. So did this marathon. The next one will be infinite too, of course, until it ends, and so too the one after that; there will be rest for the weary, but be ready to wear yourself out again.

The second part of the moral is that readiness involves listening to people who actually know what they’re talking about. Get your nutritional advice from somebody like Anne, who knows this stuff because she does it and lives it – do NOT listen to a guy who even knows where to find Cheetos and Blue Bell ice cream. (OK, maybe the “Cereal Girl” thing is a bit counter-intuitive, but I still trust her judgment.)

What I can do for you while she’s away – even though I’ve no goldendoodle to call my own – is share a shot of two of the three members of my own four-legged cheering section. They’re no substitute for Keira, I know, but they’re my own blond baby-direwolves:

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(l to r) Daisy and her older sister Shemp, the latter named more after my “Legalize Shemp” poster than after the Stooge himself.

Has the concept of infinite space-time ever messed with your head during a long race?

Categories
Food Recipes

Ho-Ho-How to Avoid Santa’s Belly

Growing up, I never thought I had a sweet tooth. Sure, I liked Klondike bars with the rest of the 80s kids (and I guess I’ve already revealed my propensity for cereal) but set me free in a candy shop and I’d usually gravitate not toward the jelly beans but to the single bag of salt and vinegar potato chips up by the register.

Salt, not sweet, has traditionally been my flavor of choice, so it’s been strange to me that in the weeks since the wedding, I simply can’t stop craving sugar.

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Mine! All mine!

Normally my survival strategy for avoiding unhealthy foods is to just keep them out of my reach: the old “no cookies in the house, no cookies in my belly” diet routine. But there’s one time of year when that’s simply not an option, and it’s upon us: The holidays!

Nutrition bloggers the whole internet over will give you tips for keeping your sugar intake down between Advent and Epiphany, and I’ve even joined them in holiday seasons past. Some of the tips are good ones, like avoiding non-special holiday food (i.e. tree-shaped pretzels) you can eat any time of year, but other tips, like not even letting baked goods into your home, simply don’t make sense.

Why, you ask? Because I like baked goods! And I like holiday flavors! And I like sugar! And if someone gifts you a plate of homemade cookies, you’d be a real Grinch to decline.

That said, there are ways to have your cake and eat it too, or — since that idiom never made any sense — have your holiday treats and keep them from being total and utter sugar bombs. How, you ask? Cook them yourself.

Now I know between all the wrapping and caroling and decking the halls you won’t have time to bake all the holiday classics alone, but even opting to bring one (slightly) lighter dish to your next seasonal fête can be a smart move in waistline preservation. And that doesn’t always mean starting with a Cooking Light recipe. Sometimes, with a little practice and experimentation, you can take a traditionally heavy recipe and lighten it up with a few key substitutes.

When choosing what dessert recipe to make, I always look for three things:

  1. Can I swap out any of the white flour for whole wheat flour?
  2. Can I swap out any of the vegetable oil or butter for applesauce or yogurt?
  3. Can I find a way to incorporate fruit or nuts, even if they aren’t in the original recipe?

Now I know some bakers are turning in their graves, because these swaps won’t work for every dish. Some delicate nibbles would get too heavy with whole wheat flour, and some classic cookies wouldn’t crisp up without good old fashioned butter. But other recipes are pretty forgiving of swaps like these, especially bars and loafs with a little more give.

Take, for instance, the gingerbread I made last weekend from a Food & Wine recipe:

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Thanks, F&W! Copyright here.

I was first drawn to it because it already meets requirement three — it includes fruit. And since it’s in loaf form, I knew it would take more kindly to swapping out half of the flour for whole wheat flour. (I chose to do a mix to keep it from getting too dense while also getting most of the fiber and nutrition the wheat variety brings.) Canola oil is already one of the healthier vegetable oils, sporting low saturated fat content and some Omega-3 fatty acids, so I only swapped half of it — substituting one 1/4 cup for the same volume of unsweetened applesauce. And obviously, I kept the sugar content at full tilt. I’m not a monster.

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Bonus view of my new country house kitchen!

Now I didn’t remember to take a photo of the end product, but it was delicious indeed. And while no one could argue it was the healthiest dessert, knowing that some wholesome goodness went into it made me feel a little less guilty about having a slice of gingerbread smothered with beef stroganoff for breakfast the next morning. (No, I’m not pregnant; I just have unique tastes in food.)

It’s only December 17, so why am I giving you my holiday post today? I’ll tell you why: because I won’t be anywhere near a computer when actual Christmas week rolls around. Ben and I will be on our honeymoon down under, putting all my good advice aside and consuming our weight in beachside cocktails and kangaroo burgers. Don’t worry: I’ve arranged a guest post to publish on Boxing Day to give you a little taste of running inspiration while I’m out of pocket.

In the meantime, have a very happy holiday, folks! I know I will — I’m seeing this babe during a layover in Hawaii tomorrow!

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Categories
Food Recipes

Getting the Most Out of Your CSA

Aside from TGIF and BYOB, there are few acronyms I love more than CSA. No, I’m not talking about the Controlled Substance Act or the Confederate States Army or my Crazy Seasonal Allergies. I’m talking about Community Supported Agriculture, or the season that I think rivals Christmas and Arbor Day as the most wonderful time of the year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a CSA is a program in which consumers can buy seasonal vegetables directly from the farmer by paying an upfront cost and collecting a box of produce during pre-scheduled pick-ups. Unlike a farmers’ market, where you choose exactly what you want to buy and in what quantity, a CSA delivers what’s fresh that week and in a quantity proportional to how good the harvest was.

The pros of this arrangement are the farmer gets upfront cash to do the planting and the buyer is forced to try new veggies she might not normally buy. The downside is a poor crop means less take-home food for you, while a bumper* crop means you’re sometimes stuck with 6 pounds of kohlrabi you don’t know what to do with.

*Does the phrase ‘bumper crop’ remind everyone else of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ too? Ok, good.

Still, the rewards far outweigh the risks in my opinion, so when my company advertised a summer/fall of bi-weekly deliveries brought straight to my office, I couldn’t resist. And unlike two years ago when I bought a share and split it with a friend, this summer, I’m planning to go it alone. Why? Because I’m trying to eat more vegetables and haven’t yet found my new Queens Greenmarket. Also because when you share, it’s really hard to split a single spaghetti squash, and I’m selfish.

The first pick-up was this past Tuesday, and OH THE BOUNTY. It’s still spring, and that means mostly greens for now. We had several things I recognized, like head lettuce and bok choy and scallions and kale, but also some things I definitely had to google, like tatsoi.

Some people who buy CSAs say it’s hard to use all the ingredients, especially the unfamiliar ones, in the two weeks before the next box arrives. But with a little creativity and forward planning, it’s completely possible to eat every last ounce. Here are my best strategies for getting the most out of your summer CSA:

  • Remove the greens. First thing first (well, after taking the required CSA instagram photo), remove all the green tops from root vegetables, like radishes and carrots and kohlrabi and turnips. Sure, they look pretty as a whole unit, but the greens will keep sucking moisture out of the roots while they sit in your crisper. After you snip off the tops, feel free to keep the leaves for another use. Turnip greens are great in soups, and carrot tops make amazing pesto. Don’t be bullied into using everything though — I’ve finally admitted to myself I don’t like radish greens (too fuzzy!), raw or cooked, so I allowed myself to toss them on Tuesday. Don’t judge me.

  • Eat softer things first. You may be tempted to crack right into the sweet potatoes, but try to use your faster-to-wilt veggies first. That means lettuces right away, followed by other leafy greens and delicate produce. I only get a share every two weeks, so it’s important to save some of the heartier things for week two, like the squashes.

  • Work veggies into every meal. This is a good rule of thumb all the time — don’t eat any meal without adding something grown — but it’s especially important as you try to use up veggies before they rot. Sautéed tatsoi (basically Asian spinach, I learned this week) makes a great bacon and egg accompaniment, turns out.

  • Master some easy go-to dishes. It’s good to have a few recipes up your sleeve that can use multiple veggies at once. Bonus points if you can make it ahead and freeze it, so you have it for week two. For some people, that go-to dish is a hearty soup or a bisquick pie. For me, it’s quiche. I’ve already eaten most of one, and a second is cooling in my icebox as we speak.

  • Don’t fear the pickle. One way to get your vegetables to last longer is to preserve them. I don’t do anything fancy that will last til next winter like I’m a modern Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I do like to pickle my radishes. They’re so easy and so delicious, especially on burgers or tuna sandwiches or by the forkful. Here’s the recipe I use.

More ambitious cooks might have other tips for getting the most out of their CSAs, like making jams and canning and freezing things through the off-season, but I’m not that fancy. Fancier folks, what else do you recommend to get the most out of your CSA? (And how can I control these Crazy Seasonal Allergies?!)

Categories
Food Recipes

Spaghetti Squash: The Final Frontier

My sister has taught me a lot of useful things in life: how to paper mache, where to hide Girl Scout cookies bought on the sly, which flavors of Lip Smackers taste good enough to eat (spoiler alert: all of them.)

Two and a half years my senior, she went before me in all walks of life — first to preschool, first to summer camp, first (fine, and only) to live in Mongolia — and passed on loads of wisdom and first-hand experience along the way as older sisters are wont to do.

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Like how to get a stubborn niece to participate in a Fourth of July photo shoot.

At the ripe at of 30, I thought I had completed my sister-led education, but then I visited her in the Midwest last month and she introduced me to something totally new once more: the spaghetti squash.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve HEARD of spaghetti squash — but due to some combination of fear and skepticism, I’d never actually bought or cooked one. Some of that is because it’s hard to trust something mascaraing as something else — is it spaghetti? is it squash? is it Keyser Soze?— but mostly because I simply didn’t know how to cook it.

I realize the internet is full of directions for how to prepare unfamiliar ingredients, but the masses were telling me all sorts of conflicting information: “Cook it whole!” “Slice it and roast face up!” “Slice it and roast it face down!” “Toss the squash in the trash and buy some pasta!” So I kept putting off familiarizing myself with this ingredient, much like I’ve put off watching The West Wing and other recommendations people say would be good for me.

And with so many other vegetables in my life, it hasn’t been a problem avoiding this specific one for three decades. But then I started Whole30 and I suddenly found myself needing a new vehicle for my tomato sauce. Flash forward to my visit with my sister, where she taught me to cook my very first spaghetti squash. And you know what?

I failed miserably! (And you thought I was going to say it was easy, didn’t you?) I didn’t realize you had to scrape seeds out of both sides, since I was afraid of losing the flesh that I knew eventually became the eponymous noodles. Still, once we picked all the baked seeds out of the piping hot squash halves, it was easier and more satisfying than I’d ever imagined to flake the squash into strands. We topped it with sauce and — more importantly — meatballs, and now I’m a convert.

For those of you like me avoiding this surprisingly delicious pasta substitute that doesn’t require a spiralizer, here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy a spaghetti squash. They are giant and yellow, and every local grocery store seems to have them.
  2. Wash it, cut it in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds while leaving the majority of the flesh. (I guess this is also the step where I should tell you to preheat the oven to 450 degrees.)
  3. Bake face down in a 450 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
  4. Remove, let cook enough to handle, and then use fork to break up remaining flesh into noodles. It’s easier and more fun than it sounds.
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  5. Top with sauce! In this case, Whole30 approved turkey marinara, but I imagine I’ll be doing this again with parmesan-filled pesto in 15 short days.
    IMG_1608
  6. Enjoy in front of a movie with your fiance (step 6 is not optional and is key to the success of the dish, I swear.)
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What’s your favorite spaghetti squash preparation?

Categories
Food Recipes

Recipe for Success?

When it comes to cooking, I’m what one might call resourceful.

Resourceful, or forged in the Depression era. You pick.

Raised in a family in which the only thing worse than wasting food was running out to the store to purchase a single item, I internalized young the idea that you cook with what you have on hand. Even in my tiny New York City kitchen, I keep enough pantry staples on hand — canned goods, pasta, frozen veggies, wine — that I can always whip together something nutritious and palatable without making a grocery run.

To put it another way, I half-marathon PRed this spring, toasted my Pulitzer Prize winning colleague, and watched my little brother commit to the woman of his dreams, and my proudest moment of the year was probably the time I opened a barren fridge to find a head of cabbage, two eggs, and leftover Indian food — and managed to make the best fried rice of my life.

With ingenuity and frugality the crux of my cooking philosophy, I was as surprised as you when I signed up last week to receive my first ever Blue Apron delivery.

For those of you not familiar with Blue Apron, it’s a subscription-based delivery service where fresh ingredients in the perfect pre-measured proportions arrive at your door with step-by-step instructions for putting the meals together. Unlike take-out Chinese, you still do all the chopping and sautéing, but unlike traditional meal prep, you don’t do any of the grocery shopping — or even recipe selection — yourself.

In a lot of ways, Blue Apron isn’t my style. But considering a friend sent me a three-meal free-trial box free (a $60 value — thanks, Nina!), and considering wasting free food is the cardinal sin of my childhood home, I signed up.

Hello, beautiful.
Hello, beautiful.

My box arrived a week ago tonight, and in it were the makings of three dinners for two. I knew what I was getting before it arrived — you have the option of declining a week of delivery if the meals don’t excite you — and I knew these three recipes looked right up my alley. Here are links to the three meals I made, plus really unappealing photos taken in bad light with my iphone. You’re welcome.

Curry-Spiced Chicken Thighs with Sugar Snap Peas & Fingerling Potatoes (recipe)
photo 5 (26)

Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwiches with Roasted Vegetables & Giardiniera (recipe)photo 2 (72)

Seared Salmon with Sorrel Salad & Creamy Barley (recipe)
photo 4 (46)

Now that I’ve prepped, cooked and consumed all three meals, here’s what I see as the major pros and cons:

PRO: They deliver the ingredients right to your apartment building.

CON: They don’t deliver the ingredients all the way up to your fifth floor walkup.

PRO: They send exactly the right amount of everything you need for two meals, meaning you don’t buy a whole jar of some obscure spice you’re never going to use again.

CON: They send exactly the right amount of everything you need for two meals, meaning there are no leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

PRO: Their recipes are full of fresh, seasonal ingredients, purportedly making for healthy end-of-day fare.

CON: With the excessive use of olive oil and butter, some of their recipes run more than 700 calories a pop.

PRO: Salmon fried in butter is, to be fair, delicious.
PRO: Salmon fried in butter is, to be fair, delicious.

So what did I think? The jury’s still out. If you don’t like grocery shopping or recipe selection, want to try new recipes you might not otherwise, or really like following orders, Blue Apron is undoubtedly for you. If you want more flexibility to cook what you want to cook when you want to cook it, it probably isn’t. Or if you’re somewhere in the middle, you can do what I did: start with their ingredients, and make some minor additions to use up other items already in my fridge.

What? It’s a habit. You know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The flower girl.
The flower girl begs to disagree.

Have you tried Blue Apron, Plated or any of the other ingredient delivery services? What did you think?

Categories
Food Recipes

Reality Bites

In most of life’s situations, when it comes to choosing between real or unreal, reality wins out. In today’s 24-hour reporting cycle, for example, the most successful news is real time. One of the best things about your late 20s is knowing who your real friends are and taking real (i.e. non-megabus) transportation up the Eastern seaboard. People buy real estate, watch Real Housewives and use the real unemployment rate to discuss the state of the economy. And let’s not forget soccer. There’s a reason everyone loves Real Madrid. (Spanish jokes!)

But for all the time we spend pursuing authenticity in our friendships and love lives and day-to-day existence, there’s one major component of many of our lives where we don’t strive for reality – our food.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to go on some healthy-eating rampage or try to convince you to make your own yogurt. Heck, just today, my boyfriend and I shared a family-sized box of knock-off cheez-its and called it lunch. For years, I thought the word “organic” was little more than a punchline, and even now, some of the violent opposition to genetically-modified agriculture can come off sounding a bit like a Portlandia spoof.

But at the same time, in the years since I’ve cleaned up my diet and started thinking more critically about my nutrition choices, it’s become glaringly obvious that much of our food intake has gotten far more complex and unnatural than it ever needed to be.

Take, for example, a loaf of bread. When made from scratch, bread requires little more than flour, yeast, water and salt. Now go to your kitchen and check out the ingredients list on your store-bought loaf. Even if it’s boasting buzzwords like “whole wheat” or “multigrain,” odds are good the ingredient list is dozens of items long, and some of the additions – from corn syrup to soybean oil – don’t sound like necessary add-ons at all. Despite what every locally-sourced menu in Brooklyn might lead you to believe, the vast majority of the food that passes through our lips is complicated and processed and anything but simple.

And this is especially the case in the lucrative world of so-called healthy items. When I was trying to lose 30 pounds in 2011, I remember I stocked my drawers full of 90-calorie Special K cereal bars because, well, that’s what the commercials told me to do. I’d inhale one every morning and another every afternoon, and while I’d successfully keep my calorie count under the 1,500 goal I was targeting, I was never, ever satiated.

The more I learned about nutrition, the more I began to understand why. Sure, the bars were low-cal and tasty, but they had virtually no protein or fiber, and the ingredient list was longer than a Saturday night wait at the Meatball Shop:

CEREAL (RICE, WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT, SUGAR, WHEAT BRAN, SOLUBLE WHEAT FIBER, SALT, MALT FLAVORING, MALTODEXTRIN, THIAMIN MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2]), CORN SYRUP, SOLUBLE CORN FIBER, FRUCTOSE, STRAWBERRY FLAVORED FRUIT PIECES (SUGAR, CRANBERRIES, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL STRAWBERRY FLAVOR WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS, ELDERBERRY JUICE CONCENTRATE FOR COLOR, SUNFLOWER OIL), SUGAR, VEGETABLE OIL (SOYBEAN AND PALM OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL)†, MALTODEXTRIN, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF DEXTROSE, SORBITOL, GLYCERIN, NONFAT DRY MILK, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL STRAWBERRY FLAVOR, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, NIACINAMIDE, COLOR ADDED, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), BHT (PRESERVATIVE). †LESS THAN 0.5g TRANS FAT PER SERVING

I soon realized that for nearly the same number of calories, I could have a string cheese (7 grams protein, four ingredients) and a handful of cherry tomatoes (lots of fiber, just one ingredient), simplifying my diet and leaving me feeling full. With that realization, I started swapping out increasingly more processed “health” foods for fresh fruit, roasted nuts and “clean eating” choices, and by that summer, I was out of a size 14 and training for my first half marathon.

Clean eating has been a goal of mine in the three years since, but between my long working hours and the hundreds of delivery options on every New York City block, it’s easy to let home cooking and other good habits go by the wayside. And it certainly doesn’t help that my office stocks its free-food pantries with all the processed deliciousness a hungry employee could ask for.

Fudge stripe cookies = the elixir of the gods.
Fruit snacks. Neither fruit nor snacks. Discuss.

But January is about recommitting yourself to the things that are important to you — and about changing your stance on snow from amused to infuriated — so I’m vowing here to recommit myself to clean eating, at least when the option is available.

And I’m going to brag here for a second. I got off to a pretty good start last week. On Monday night, I roasted my own chicken.

x
No big deal.

The following night, I simmered the bones to make a homemade stock.

x
Mildly big deal.

The night after that, I used the stock to make homemade Brussels sprout risotto.

x
Big F-ing deal.

And then I ate aforementioned box of cheez-its for lunch today and undid a week’s worth of toxic-free eating. But what the heck. Cheez-its are delicious.

The truth is, I know I’m not always going to choose the “real” food option, especially with Cadbury Crème Egg season so fast approaching, and at least a good portion of the time, I’m still going to choose convenience over health. But at least trying to keep these goals in mind in the months ahead might help me choose the fresh fruit over the crab chips during my next trek to the office kitchen. Hell, even if we go best out of three, I’ll still be moving in the right direction. (And, as much as it pains me to admit as a Baltimore native, away from the crab chips is probably the right direction.)

photo (94)

How does clean eating fit into your lifestyle?